The takeover of Charlton Athletic by an Al Ain-based consortium will prompt a strong collaboration between the English club and the emirate of Abu Dhabi, high-ranking members of the new board have told The National.
The purchase of the second-tier English football club was completed by East Street Investments (ESI) on January 2 after an agreement to buy was first announced in November, subject to approval by the Football League.
Tahnoon Nimer, chairman of Al Ain-based Abu Dhabi Business Development (ADBD) - the private office of Sheikh Saeed bin Tahnoun – and the majority shareholder in ESI through his corporation, Panorama Magic General Contracting, sits on the new board as a director. He is joined by ADBD chief executive Jonathan Heller, while Matt Southall has been installed as club chairman.
Currently, Charlton lie 19th in the Championship, five points above the relegation zone. Promoted from League One last season, they last competed in the English Premier League in 2007.
Speaking to The National, Nimer said the board has a five-year "masterplan" but in the short term wants "absolute stability" before focusing attention on regaining Premier League status.
“We are working now to make the fans happy,” he said, adding that he would soon take in his first match at The Valley, Charlton's home ground in south London.
Nimer said he is talking to his local club, Al Ain, about “how we can join hands” and build ties between the two, with possible player loans to follow, particularly youth players.
Charlton hope to bring the squad to Abu Dhabi for a training camp towards the end of the Championship season, possibly the beginning of May, with the team expected to become regular visitors to the capital.
Southall, who spent time at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium last week, said the club were seeking to establish commercial partnerships in the Middle East, using Nimer's knowledge of, and close relationships in, the region.
Southall said he speaks daily with Nimer’s advisors, especially as Charlton look to add to the squad this January as they attempt to achieve their immediate target of remaining in the Championship.
On the potential player-exchange between Charlton and clubs within the UAE, Southall added: “Going forward we could potentially send players here on loan from our academy; they may send players to us.
“It's only good for the profile of their club if they've got a player who's playing in our first team, and it’s good for the profile of football out here if they've got a player from England playing in their team as well. So there's definitely scope to build relationships with clubs out here.”
Southall said also that provisions are in place should Charlton be relegated this season, and that a return to League One would not impact significantly the club’s ability to generate revenue from Gulf sponsors.
“Given the fact that we're already quite streamlined, as long as we can continue to increase the commercial revenues, the partners that we're speaking to in the Middle East, they're wanting to get involved because of their relationship with Tahnoon,” Southall said. “Regardless of whether we're in League One or the Championship or the Premier League, they know our long-term vision, our long-term plan.”
Southall was wary of comparisons made, understandably, with Abu Dhabi’s acquisition of Manchester City in 2008. However, he said that, like City, the Charlton board would not concentrate solely on the development of the football team, with a number of projects, including a brand new training complex spanning almost 40 acres, in the pipeline. Work on the training ground is scheduled to begin this summer.
“Obviously we’re a totally separate entity to the guys at Manchester City,” Southall said. “When I sat down with Tahnoon and his advisers I outlined my vision and my way and how I feel we could move the club forward.
“And that isn’t the same as when Sheikh Mansour looked at Man City; they were in the Premier League then. There’s so much more money in the Premier League than there is the Championship.
“So that would’ve been a different vision to what I’ve got Tahnoon to buy into. It’s not really comparable. But the fact they’ve taken the local community, they’ve expanded it, the campus, they’ve invested into all the regeneration around the ground. They do a lot of work in the community, so there are similarities. But in terms of structure it’s completely different.”
A former Dubai resident, Southall has been working with ADBD since last year and said he had long considered Charlton for acquisition, particularly given its base in London. He began conversations about a takeover with then-owner Roland Duchatelet in mid-August, with the bid moving forward at pace.
“The price Roman wanted was excessive for other people, but the fact of the potential of the projects and the value if you do get to the Premier League - look at Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, they’d sell at about £220 million [Dh1 billion] - so that's the numbers you're talking there.
“So £50m investment and obviously money on top for players, ultimately if you do get there, you get a good return on your investment. It didn't really take much convincing. The location, the ties with the local community, the manager [Lee Bowyer], the academy: Tahnoon just said, ‘Go and work the deal.’”
Meanwhile, Nimer said that, in time, ESI would consider acquiring a club in another country, but for now its priority is Charlton.